Chris Roxburgh, 39, takes an ice dive beneath the surface of Lake Michigan in Traverse City on Feb. 23, 2019. The water was 35 degrees.
Chris Roxburgh, Detroit Free Press
DETROIT – Beneath the icy surface of frozen Michigan waters there is a whole new blue world that’s surreal to explore — if you can manage the momentary stinging sensation of frigid temperatures long enough for your face and head to go numb.
Most recently, Roxburgh, 39, of Traverse City, Michigan, shared footage from his Feb. 23 trip beneath the ice on Lake Michigan.
“Swimming under the ice … there’s all these blue and turquoise colors that shine through the ice. It’s really cool to see because it’s so different than what it looks like on top of the ice. Underneath, you can see seaweed that’s stuck hanging under the ice, and ice crystals,” he said.
The freezing temperatures, though, do take some getting used to — Roxburgh’s recent ice diving excursion on Lake Michigan landed him in 35-degree water.
“When your skin hits the water, it’s very cold. It stings your skin, somewhat painful. Once your skin goes completely numb and your face and your lips, then it’s not too bad after that,” he said.
“The rest of my body’s pretty well protected. I typically use a seven-millimeter, semi-dry wet suit, and now I have a full dry suit. So, the only thing that’s getting wet is my head and face.”
Taking the plunge during the winter months is worth it though, Roxburgh said, because it boasts the best visibility possible while scuba diving.
“The water doesn’t have algae in it, there are not many particles in it, because there are no waves. … So, the visibility underwater is three or four times as good as it would be during the summer. You’re looking at 100-foot visibility,” he said.
“It’s crystal clear.”
With an icy ceiling above his head, Roxburgh said he it’s “actually pretty relaxing.”
Typically, the only thing going through his mind is keeping an eye on his gauges, air and taking it all in.
Roxburgh told the Free Press he’s been swimming since he was 4 and started out as a self-taught free diver.
The first time Roxburgh went under the ice was when he decided to try free diving in West Grand Traverse Bay, to see if he could handle the cold water during his scuba certification class two years ago.
While he really enjoyed it, Roxburgh said he first went by himself, which is dangerous and not recommended, but he later learned about the many procedures and precautions needed while getting his scuba certification that year.
“Now I follow all the rules. You gotta tether yourself off with a rope from the surface and have a surface support person waiting for you in case you have an emergency. … Also to hold your rope, and make sure your rope doesn’t go in the hole, so you can find your way back under the ice.”
A start inspired by shipwrecks
What inspired Roxburgh to get into scuba diving was a hankering to check out shipwrecks — which he said is his favorite thing to do.
“Right away (I) started diving wrecks all over the Great Lakes. Between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, I’ve dove over 30 shipwrecks,” Roxburgh added.
However, by far the craziest thing Roxburgh said he’s found during a shipwreck searching excursion is a local underwater stone circle he came upon that’s been featured on the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens,” and dubbed the “Great Lakes Stonehenge.”
Roxburgh said he will not be revealing the exact location of the Great Lakes Stonehenge, but added that he found the stone circle by chance.
Chris Roxburgh, of Traverse City, follows a rock line leading up to a local underwater anomaly, a stone circle in Michigan that’s been called the Great Lakes Stonehenge.
Chris Roxburgh, Detroit Free Press
He said he was out looking for shipwreck, had anchored at several spots and spent about two hours free diving during his search when he spotted the circle beneath the boat and recognized it from the television show.
“It was six large boulders that weigh several thousand tons a piece … symmetrically placed into a circle underwater, and there’s a large rock line that leads up to it,” Roxburgh said.
“There’s a mastodon that’s carved into one of the boulders underwater, and it’s a really neat place.”
Ice diving tips
For folks looking to get into diving, Roxburgh said it all starts with taking on an open water scuba certification class and pursuing more advanced courses afterward.
If ice diving entices you, Roxburgh warned that it’s not something folks should jump into as fast as he did.
“Ice diving is the most dangerous diving that you could possibly do, other than some of the technical diving that’s two or three hundred feet,” he said.
Roxburgh said folks should consider the following steps to start ice diving.
- Start from scratch, and do the open water scuba certification course
- After several dives, take an advanced diving course
- After getting proper training, try ice diving with surface support (someone who can hold the rope tied to your gear)
- Don’t go far from the entry hole
There are also several dangers to note.
First, there are currents under the ice that can catch a diver off-guard, so he said it’s important to make sure you’re able to return to the entry hole. Also, Roxburgh said to keep an eye on your scuba gear underwater, because if your regulator freezes, it could be just minutes before you run out of air.
“A lot of people see me do all this stuff, and I do want everyone to understand that it is very dangerous. I don’t want to see somebody try to go jump under the ice, because it looks awesome, and get sucked away,” he said.
“Play it safe, you gotta really watch what you’re doing.”
Follow Aleanna Siacon on Twitter: @AleannaSiacon.
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